Why has HMRC hypocritically let tax avoidance adviser David Heaton resign?

A wolf in wolf's clothing?

David Heaton resigned as an adviser to HMRC on tax avoidance last week after it emerged that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing – despite having been hired precisely because he was a wolf.

Speaking two months ago at a conference in London, for which tickets cost up to £1,000, Heaton had advised employers on how to avoid tax on bonuses by exploiting maternity pay, so tax paid was 8.4 per cent compared to the initial 41.8 per cent.

When the scandal broke and his former role was revealed by a BBC/Private Eye investigation, the Treasury welcomed his resignation. Ministers and Treasury spokespeople have put across how shocked – shocked! – they are that someone they retained for his knowledge of tax avoidance turned out to have been advocating, um, tax avoidance.

Now, it is not necessarily right that businesses try to avoid tax, but they do. Hundreds of highly-paid individuals are employed by companies to keep profits from the taxman. They are internally lauded for this, as you would expect.

But it is exactly these people the government should be using to fight back against such inexcusable abuses of the tax system. Forcing them out following shameful revelations highlights a margin of morals but doesn’t balance the books.

Perhaps worst of all, a company Heaton has worked for gives seminars entitled "50 Shades of Tax", aimed at "anyone who loves tax, and anyone who doesn't but still pays it!" There is something tragic in the comedy. Not only do people avoid tax with base swindling schemes but people make money in advising others to do so.

Perhaps the Treasury should take note and see crushing tax avoidance as business: invest in advisers, secure profit, reinvest. They can start by getting poachers such as David Heaton to repay their social debts by turning gamekeeper.

Read more by Alex Matchett

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.